Wildcat Coal Lodge will exhibit a tribute to coal

The University of Kentucky's new $8 million Wildcat Coal Lodge won't just refer to coal mining in its name.

According to the agreement between the donors who gave the money — many of them coal operatives — and the University of Kentucky, the lobby of the dorm for the UK men's basketball team will be the home of a tribute exhibit to the coal industry.

Joseph W. Craft III, who heads Alliance Coal and is a UK graduate, organized a group of donors to give $7 million for the building; an anonymous donor later gave an additional $1 million, UK officials said.

The lodge, which will be near Memorial Coliseum, will be 20,000 square feet and house 32 students.

The gift agreement, obtained by the Herald-Leader under the state's Open Records Act, said the building "will include an exhibit in the primary entrance lobby which presents in print, photographic, sound, video, DVD and/or other format, a discussion of and tribute to the importance of the coal industry to the Commonwealth of Kentucky, which exhibit shall be reasonably acceptable to Craft."

The agreement also said that some recognition will be made to Craft and the other donors. If the exhibit and recognition is not established by the second year of the pledge period or is not "reasonably acceptable" to Craft, UK will have to return the donations.

Craft was also a major donor for The Joe Craft Center, a basketball practice facility named in his honor. A reporter's calls to his offices were not returned Wednesday.

Asked about the contract stipulation for the coal exhibit, Jay Blanton, UK's spokesman, said in: "The parameters of — and requirements in — gifts' terms are examined on a case-by-case basis. That was certainly the case here as well."

The proposed name already has caused an uproar on campus, and it spurred famed author Wendell Berry to pull many of his personal papers from the UK archives because he said it indicated the university was in a "manifest alliance" with the coal industry.

The UK Board of Trustees approved the building's name in 2009.

Teri Blanton of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, an environmental activist group, said Wednesday she would like to see a tribute to all the miners who have lost their lives digging for coal in Kentucky.

"Coal has not been good for Kentucky," she said. "I don't think UK is making a good decision."

UK's Blanton, however, said in a statement: "Coal is an important part of Kentucky's economy and history and, as such, is certainly appropriate for recognition in a gift such as this one. That doesn't diminish the debate — both in support of and in opposition to — coal and its impact on our state.

"However, unanimity of support for something is not a requirement for acceptance of a gift or its terms."

The donors range from coal operators, such as Hazard's L.D. Gorman to Craft's college roommate, Franklin Farris of Louisville.

The total given by the donors recruited by Craft is $2.5 million. Another $1 million was given anonymously, and Craft made up the difference, UK officials said.

One of the donors, Jeff Speaks, a lobbyist for the coal industry, said Craft had asked him to help out and he was happy to oblige.

"I think it signifies that coal and the coal industry is supportive of so many things throughout the Commonwealth that folks felt it was a worthy cause," Speaks said.

Some people have also protested because the name of the new lodge will not include the name of the old one, which honors Joe B. Hall, former UK men's basketball coach.

Donations have become an increasingly complicated area for universities, based on what donors receive — or believe they will receive — in return for their gifts.

Most recently, a University of Connecticutt sports booster demanded that his $3 million in donations for a new football facility be returned because he said he was not consulted about the hiring of a new football coach.

Robynn Pease, a former staff trustee at UK, voted against the lodge name in 2009. She said she would not have had any problem with naming the building after Craft himself, but that the word coal opened a political and controversial door.

"I thought the university has a responsibility to be mindful about naming buildings," Pease said. "I knew we would be in trouble from a symbolic perspective."

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